The Origins of Nantucket’s

E very August, as part of Nantucket Race Week, the little catboats of the island’s beloved Rainbow.

Fleet raise their colorful sails and parade around the entrance to the harbor at Brant Point, weather permitting.

This island tradition dates to the 1920s, and grew out of efforts by the leaders of the Nantucket Yacht.

Club to find a suitable boat in which children and teenagers could learn to sail.

A catboat was originally any boat with a “cat rig,” that is,

A single mast, well forward, supporting a single gaff-headed sail.

Over time, this rig became associated with beamy,

Shoal-bottomed centerboard boats designed to operate in the windy,

Choppy, and shallow waters of such places as Lower New York Bay,

Massachusetts Bay, and Nantucket Sound.

The catboat is, historically, the quintessential Nantucket boat, after the whaleboat.

Although by no means exclusive to Nantucket, the catboat was.

The dominant watercraft in the local fishing fleet and the preferred party boat for summer.

Visitors from the 1860s to the 1920s.

The Origins of Nantucket’s The hull size grew over time.

Enormous catboats up to 40 feet long developed,

Able to profitably fish in Nantucket Sound, or carry dozens of passengers on pleasure trips around the harbor.

Smaller catboats designed for racing developed from these large workboats,

particularly in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Many other boat types have sailed at Nantucket, but the catboat alone represents the island’s dual roles as a place of hard work and carefree play.

Nantucket has been a summer holiday destination for more than 150 years.

Pleasure boating was well established as a feature of the island’s summer scene long before the Nantucket Yacht Club was founded in 1906.

The club immediately organized races, where its members pitted their catboats,

Knockabouts, and other recreational craft against each other.

Because different boats have different performance characteristics,

A system of handicapping was developed for certain races to make the competition fairer,

The Origins of Nantucket’s and boats of similar rigs or designs were raced only against each other.

 Before long, the yacht club, like many other clubs across the country,

sought to encourage members to invest in boats all built to the same design to eliminate the need for handicapping.

The first step in this direction on Nantucket came in 1910, when a committee at the yacht club commissioned 25-year-old B.

Karl Sharp (1884–1962) to design a 13-foot catboat for members’ use as a “one-design” racing boat.

Sharp was a lifelong island summer resident and a son of Dr.

Benjamin Sharp (1858–1915), a gifted zoologist and sailor who contributed extensively to the cultural life of Nantucket.

The elder Sharp instilled in his two sons a deep love of sailing, which led Karl both to a lifetime of yachting and to the study of naval architecture at MIT, earning a degree in 1907.

He and E. A. Edwards founded the firm of Edwards and Sharp, naval architects and marine engineers, soon after graduating from university.

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